Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 7.24.22

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Let them eat cookies.

That seems to be the attitude of Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. He tweeted recently, “I was honored to join @the_uso today and make care packages for our brave military members in gratitude of their sacrifice and service to our nation.”

According to the USO website, the packages typically contain “Snack Packs and Toiletry Packs with hygiene essentials.”

I’m sure the troops appreciate the packages, but there’s something they would have appreciated more.

Not long after his labor of love, Scott joined 40 other Republicans in voting to block the PACT Act — Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act. Scott had earlier voted for the bill, but he said Democrats added language that changed what he had voted for.

The bill would expand medical care for more than 3.5 million post-9/11 combat veterans exposed to toxins while serving in the military. It also happens to be the right thing to do.

Jon Stewart, the former host of the Daily Show and an unflinching supporter, went ballistic.

In a profane tirade (he later apologized for the language) that blew up social media, Stewart zeroed in on Scott’s selfless sacrifice to make the goodie bags.

“There’s a beautiful picture. I wish you could see it. He’s standing with a little package,” Stewart said, dripping with his trademark sarcasm. “Did you get the package? It has M&Ms in it and some cookies and some moist towelettes. Honestly, I don’t know what to say.”

Scott took to Twitter again and tried to explain, but Stewart kept coming.

I was proud to vote for the PACT Act in the Senate previously & will support its final passage soon,” he wrote. “Sadly, Democrats purposely delayed this bill by adding a budget gimmick which warranted further discussion. We’re working to quickly fix this & get veterans the care they deserve.”

Stewart snapped back at Scott, replying, “This is a bald faced lie (no offense). The PACTact you voted FOR was identical to the PACTact you voted AGAINST!! One minor change concerning rural VA access. That’s it. Stop lying and pass the damn bill.”

By the way, Sen. Marco Rubio helped write the PACT Act and did not change his vote, which left Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz with egg on her face when she included Rubio in a tweet condemning Republicans for the vote.

Rubio staffer Dan Holler quickly responded.

“Marco helped write the bill and voted yes,” he tweeted. “Your petty partisan political games are toxic. Stop lying and trying to score points on Twitter.”

Ah, politics.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Universal Orlando. What recession?

The Orlando theme park was the main force in the last quarter behind record earnings for Comcast, its parent company.

Comcast doesn’t break down its earnings report by specific theme parks, but there’s no doubt about Orlando’s contribution. The Orlando Sentinel reported that company leaders said in an earnings call that the Orlando property showed the highest adjusted earnings on record.

NBCUniversal’s Theme Parks group reported $1.8 billion in revenue for the second quarter of this year, a nearly 65% increase over the same period in 2021

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Republican congressional candidates. The respected political analysis site Sabato’s Crystal Ball has already made the call on three Florida congressional elections, and it’s good news for the GOP.

It called Florida’s 4th, 7th and 28th Congressional Districts “Safe Republican,” which seems logical. Republicans already represent CD 4 and CD 28, and Democrat incumbent Stephanie Murphy isn’t running for re-election in CD 7.

Besides, CD 7’s reconfigured boundary lines make a Republican win far more likely.

Sabato predicts a GOP House gain of “somewhere in the 20s,” and if that’s accurate, Republicans would control the House next year.

The biggest winner: Florida homeowners. Well, for now anyway. They received a reprieve from massive property insurance hikes because Demotech, the company that rates the solvency of insurance companies, said it wasn’t ready to release its ratings.

“While we are unable to provide a specific date for release, we are working to expedite the release of our ratings as soon as possible,” Demotech President Joseph Petrelli wrote a letter to Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

“We will withhold the release of all ratings-related information and any updates to our website until we have completed all aspects of our rating process.”

Demotech had warned that 17 Florida insurance companies could receive lower ratings, forcing policyholders to find other insurers just as hurricane season heats up.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has blasted Demotech as a “rogue ratings agency” playing “havoc with the financial lives of millions of Floridians.”

Outgoing Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes long ago sounded the alarm for the state to undertake insurance reform. He called action taken at a recent Special Legislative Session “too little, too late.”

Demotech could follow through with the downgrade for the affected insurance companies, but for now, homeowners caught a break.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Nikki Fried. She must be wondering where her friends went.

Fried has long stressed her unflinching support for abortion rights while slamming Charlie Crist, who declared himself “pro-life” as Governor before changing to a pro-abortion rights position.

This was one issue Fried expected to have widespread support, particularly from organizations like Ruth’s List Florida and EMILY’s List.

However, as Marc Caputo of NBC News reported, those two groups are conspicuously silent about Fried as the Aug. 23 Democratic gubernatorial Primary Election draws near.

Caputo wrote that neither organization responded to questions about why they haven’t endorsed Fried.

Meanwhile, Crist has received endorsements from outspoken pro-abortion women such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and state Rep. Anna Eskamani.

It adds to the perception that the two organizations believe Crist will win and that endorsing Fried now could be a liability in the General Election.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Brian Burgess and The Capitolist. Burgess is the founder of the definitely feisty and allegedly independent conservative website The Capitolist.

He seemed to have a good thing going until he didn’t.

Burgess’s credibility and his site took a beating with the Miami Herald’s revelation that the site essentially functioned as a Florida Power & Light PR arm. You can read the full details of the story here.

The arrangement is not illegal, but it is a major hit to the site’s claims of independence.

The Herald reported that FP&L used the Capitolist “as part of an elaborate, off-the-books political strategy” to slam opponents and advocate for rate hikes. The aim was to maintain the company’s near-stranglehold on selling power in Florida.

Text messages and emails, the Herald said, “show how FPL executives maneuvered behind the scenes at the Capitolist to settle scores and bend the will of regulators, politicians, and the public.”

The charade went further, possibly affecting the 2016 Florida gubernatorial election.

Three days before people went to the polls, FP&L officials launched an offensive, apparently worried Andrew Gillum might win.

The Herald said records show company executive Daniel Martell “ordered a hit piece” on Gillum, stressing recent shootings in the city.

“Less than three hours later, the Capitolist had a story up,” the Herald wrote. “The second sentence called out “a crime wave of murders, robberies, and shootings in Tallahassee.”

The effect of that piece is hard to measure, but Gillum narrowly lost the election.

There were several other examples of how FP&L used the “independent” Capitolist to deliver its message.

Burgess tried to keep the arrangement secret, noting that it was important to look like “we’re legit.”

He received a reported $12,000 monthly salary.

Burgess said the records used by the Herald include “fundamental errors or omissions that paint a wildly inaccurate picture of the Capitolist and its operations.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor asked the Department of Justice to investigate, but FP&L officials deny any wrongdoing.

The biggest loser: Matt Gaetz. I’ve resolved to stop calling him Florida’s U.S. Representative from CD 1 a frat boy because it insults frat boys.

He was at it again last week, maybe because he felt he hadn’t had enough negative headlines lately. Or maybe he’s just a clueless jerk.

The Catholic News Service reported that pro-life leaders condemned Gaetz — repeat, pro-life leaders — for his comments about abortion proponents at the Turning Point USA Action Summit in Tampa.

“Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions?” he said during his speech. “Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb.”

Characterizing pro-abortion activists as 5’2? and 350 pounds, Gaetz continued, saying, “You look like you got ankles weaker than the legal reasoning behind Roe v. Wade.”

That prompted this tweet from Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America: “SHAME on (Gaetz) for this hideous comment.”

And The Lincoln Project didn’t let a good opportunity slip by. It released this video of Gaetz.

While Gaetz was yucking it up, though, abortion rights advocates raised $1.3 million off the taunt.

The Washington Post reported that Olivia Julianna — who uses only her first and middle name for privacy reasons- criticized Gaetz’s remarks. She is a political strategist for the nonprofit Gen Z for Change.

He responded by posting her photo on Twitter with a link to the story about his insults. She called for a fundraiser, and the cash started rolling in. It took only 72 hours for donations to top $1 million.

Oh, but we’re not finished yet with Gaetz.

He was one of 20 House Republicans to vote against the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act.

The bill provides $1.1 billion in support for victims of sex trafficking. It funds shelters, mental health care, education and job training.

Is this a good time to mention Gaetz is under investigation by the Department of Justice for sex trafficking allegations involving a minor?

Yes, I believe it is a good time for that.

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